have to become accustomed to criticizing the things we love.”—Angela
issue of campus sexual violence has received national attention,
with many universities grappling with how to better their campuses.
In May 2016, this issue hit HBCUs and the African American community
in a way it hadn’t before, with @RapedAtSpelman recounting the
story of gang rapes she says she experienced while being a student at
Spelman. The alleged perpetrators? Four Black men from
I read the tweets,
I was flooded with pain for all the Black women who are raped.
What I did not expect to feel was intense, debilitating fear. What if
They get a hold of this story? What if They paint all Black men as
rapists? Maybe we, as Black women, should just stay silent when these
things happen to us. For the good of the Black community. To save
ourselves from Them.
the weight of these emotions subsided, I was jolted into remembering
that I, as a graduate student in psychology at University of Oregon,
am a trauma researcher. I have published scientific articles,
scholarly pieces, and newspaper op-ed’s on various forms of
abuse, including rape. I have developed a psychological framework
called cultural betrayal trauma theory
around how oppression—the They—make within-group violence
for minorities particularly harmful.
of what I felt in reading this anonymous woman’s tweets were
pieces of the theory.
As a Black woman, I felt a connection, also known as (intra)cultural
trust, with this student. I felt a weight of ethno-cultural betrayal
on her behalf: how could Black men do this to her? I felt
(intra)cultural pressure: this intense need to protect us from Them,
even if it meant silencing one of our own who said she had been
harmed. I felt concerned for her mental health because the results
from my dissertation
demonstrated the links between within-group violence for ethnic
minorities, called ethno-cultural betrayal trauma, and outcomes, like
PTSD and internalized prejudice. I was concerned that Spelman’s
response to the disclosure, as detailed by @RapedAtSpelman, was
indicative of institutional betrayals institutional
betrayal/index.html). I feared that the institutional
betrayals reported by the student could harmfully intertwine with the
ethno-cultural betrayal, as Spelman is an HBCU.
public portrayal of events has prompted our attention, perhaps in a
way that is not dissimilar from Anita Hill testifying to the Supreme
Court about sexual harassment from Clarence Thomas in 1991.
The question of what to do now needn’t rise or fall on any
particular case. This high profile incident provides us a reason to
examine our reactions, our community, our strengths, our weaknesses,
and ourselves more fully. This particular moment is not a given. We
have been brought to a precipice in our collective consciousness, to
show our love for each other—not by silencing our women—but
through honest engagement in how we can move forward from here.
want to be clear: societal inequality is not a natural state of
affairs. Neither is rape. Furthermore, violence does not exist within
an abstract, de-contextualized system. It is re-enacted within
relationships of all kinds. Those relationships are situated within
the context of the larger discriminatory systems of American
terrorism, such as racialized police brutality, and mass
incarceration of Black men and women influences how we as a community
react to rape. Black people are often placed in an impossible
position of having to choose whom to protect; this protection can be
so necessary against a society that alternates between denigrating us
and erasing our very existence. That truth does not mean we should
turn on each other through violence or, perhaps even more dangerous,
in our reactions to such violence.
way forward isn’t about adjusting our perceptions of rape,
Black women, and Black men’s sexuality. It must be about
dismantling what we think we know about these constructs entirely and
replacing distortions with genuine equality. Protection of each other
as Black people need not be synonymous with accepting injustice,
violence, or degradation in any form. Never should we demand silence
from the dissenters, the whistle blowers, and the combatants of
injustice because solutions never arise from silence. Only with
problematizing the current situation can we radically alter our
priorities, understanding that all of us need protection, solace,
understanding, and acceptance. We all need to live lives free of
have always been a community. Let’s continue to build something
greater, stronger, more powerful, more empathetic, and more unified
through hearing the voices of those who have been victimized and
responding with love. I challenge us to move forward with grace
amidst the complexity of oppression, discrimination, violence,
(intra)cultural trust, and cultural betrayal. Let’s actually
live the world we envision in our dreams for ourselves.